Sunday, July 31, 2011

Best of the Something: Championship Karate

The best part to start complaining about Best of the Best Championship Karate by Electro Brain for the Genesis has the be the back of the box. First of all, the screenshots appear to have been made by taking pictures of a television, so you can already tell the quality of this game must be very high. The graphic design is also quite bad, with a giant wall of text off to the left. The writing makes it sound like it was made by some people that sure liked the kung fu movies of the eighties. This is cemented by the fact it says it is about a tournament called the “Kumate.” Obviously, they were going for “Kumite,” like in the movie Bloodsport, but even that movie was weird in it's choosing to name a deadly fighting game tournament something that translates to “sparring.” I don't know much about Japanese, but I'm fairly sure a “kumate” would have something to do with bears.

Anyway, this game isn't a fighting game in the established Street Fighter sense, but more like a karate simulator, similar to the boxing games of the day. The controls are strange, in that all of the control is handled with the directional pad. Left and right will move your character, and down will block, but the rest of the directions, including diagonals, are different attacks. Holding down the A button will give you completely different attacks for all eight directions. Holding down B will allow you to perform stronger attacks, but you can only perform them up to three times per round.


The main problem with Best of the Best Championship Karate is that it feels paralytic. Never mind that the controls take a bit to get used to, the problem is with the attacks and the animations. Everything feels over-animated, so you need to begin your attacks long before they actually connect. In contrast to this, the blocking animation is relatively quick, can be held, and cause incoming attacks to completely whiff. This, combined with the fact that many attacks will whiff at close range, makes for really awkward fights. It's sort of like a game based entirely around what are known in the fighting game community as footsies, except much slower.


At first I thought the controls were strange. Then, I saw that the game was “activated,” which is to say, compatible with Sega's weird Activator controller, and it seemed to make a a little more sense. Then, I found out there was an NES version of the game that was released earlier and had the same control scheme. So, I don't know. Maybe it was just their crazy idea for a control scheme, or maybe the Genesis version was in development at the same time and it seemed logical. I'll never know.


The HUD during fights was actually pretty creative for its day. The timer was put on screens above the ring, and your life was represented by lights up there as well. There are some interesting customizations options. The physical ones are laughable, allowing you to choose between different heads that appear pasted on, but the move customization is quite extensive. You can choose between a bunch of different moves and actually assign them to different directions. Sadly, the UI for this is terrible. At first it is difficult to see what you have selected and what you are actually doing, though eventually it does make sense in its own weird way. As it turns out, the move you have selected is represented by the guy with red pants, and not like a cursor or highlight of some sort.


One thing I don't understand is why it is marketed as a championship, but the structure of the game doesn't appear to be structured like a tournament. All the fighters are ranked, but you can choose to fight any of them whenever. Outside of the training mode which is simple, but buffs your character, all there is to do in Best of the Best Championship Karate is to choose an AI and fight them, or fight a friend. Since the game isn't all that interesting in a competitive fighting sort of way, there just isn't enough to do to keep the game interesting.

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